How to Layer for Cold Weather Fly Fishing
Changing seasons bring new and exciting fishing opportunities. Cold, rainy weather is sometimes the best opportunity to fish, so here are a few tips to build a layering system to keep you out on the water even in the most awful conditions.
Some folks live by the motto of 'only bring what you need', but when you get all 4 seasons weather in one day, it can pay off to have some extra gear with you. While we have had tame warm weather here in Bozeman for a good part of the ‘fall’, it's quickly switched to winter snowstorms and below-freezing temperatures at night.
Just because there is snow on the ground doesn’t mean that the fishing has stopped! Whether you are streamer fishing the Madison River in Montana, hitting the Quality Waters of the San Juan River, or planning your first steelhead fishing trip, these 8 tips can be essential for enjoying your day on the river.
1.) Pick your Baselayer wisely: Wool’s ability to be warm when wet and antimicrobial properties make it the ideal next to skin layer.
- The weight of fabric and type of material of the baselayer can make a big difference when preparing what to wear next to skin. Certain fibers are more prone to holding moisture against the body and not wicking it away, which can be dangerous for long days on the river. Wool has been long accepted as one of the best fibers to wear for winter fishing. It can absorb the moisture and keep it off your body, which helps retain heat even when getting wet.
- For days where you are covering many miles hiking into your favorite honey hole, prioritize a layer that will dry out quickly such as the River Run Hoodie. When being dry means being warm, this hoodie can be an ideal layer due to its ability to thrive in extremely hot environments, provide sun protection, and act as the foundation of your layering system year-round use.
- If you are fishing from a boat during those long 8-hour days, consider wearing a thicker next-to-skin layer to lock in that heat to the core with our Baselayer Crew top and Baselayer Bottoms. Float trips are kind of like rollercoasters where once you start your ride, you don’t get off until it’s done.
2.) Get the most out of your Mid-Layers: Mid-layers provide most of the warmth within the layering system.
Your mid-layer can be one of the most critical layers in the system as they do the most work to keep you warm. You might not want to wear your rain jacket all day, so choosing layers that can also provide some protection from the elements adds to the versatility of your set up.
- VOORMI’s Surface Hardened Thermal Wools truly opens the options in how you use a mid-layer. With the hardened outer, it can withstand days of repeated abuse and offers a durable water repellent (DWR) finish that keeps water from soaking through your layers.
- For those days where you are covering a lot of miles and need to bring just one mid-layer, the Diversion Hoodie or High-E Hoodie are fantastic options as they provide tons of warmth and durability to your kit. When it gets really cold adding a mid-layer without a hood can pair nicely, so you don’t have too many hoods stacking up by your neck with added layers. The Access Nxt Pullover or the High Country Henley are ideal layering options. For those genuinely frigid days, we also brought back our classic Thermal Henley. These are currently being sewn at the Bozeman location.
3.) Outfit yourself with Outerwear: Your outer layer is there to separate you from the elements.
- Having a rain jacket out on the water, especially on longer float trips, is always a safe thing to have with you. Weather is prone to change quickly, and it pays to be prepared. Rivers like the Madison and Yellowstone are known for brutal winds that can drastically change your day on the water. Bringing a rain jacket is necessary for the rain but also helps cut out wind.
- Side tip: Rain Jacket vs Wading Jackets – Rain jackets tend to be longer and have hip hand pockets, which tend to get wet and be in the way when wading over your waist. A jacket oriented towards fly fishing will be shorter in the torso and have higher chest pockets for hands or fly boxes.
4.) Protect your core: The warmer your body’s core is, the warmer your hands and feet will be. Keeping your hands warm without bulky gloves is essential for casting and tying knots.
- Layering with a vest is a great way to add a lot of warmth with little bulk or restricted movements. If you are beginning to build out a new layering system starting with a vest can be a fantastic addition because you can pair it with any of your other favorite items. The Access Vest is a great choice for its versatility and layering capabilities. For those colder days or more of an outer layer, use the Convex Vest to provide maximum warmth.
5.) Quality of Layers over Quantity: Fishing out of a drift boat makes it easy to bring an extra dry bag, but wade fishing limits what you can bring.
- Minimize what you need to bring by wearing layers that work for a wider range of conditions, such as our High-E Hoodie or Diversion Hoodie. Our Surface Hardened Thermal Wool provides the necessary insulation, durability, and water repellency for long days on the water. Planning for versatility also opens the possibility to use the same layers year-round.
6.) Accessories bring warmth without bulk: Protecting your neck and head can be a fantastic way to add a lot of warmth without bulk in the pack or restricting movement.
- Try out wearing two gaiters. It can be nice to wear a thinner gaiter such as the Everyday Gaiter or Lightweight gaiter for over the face and a thicker one to wear over your neck and really lock in that warmth. The thicker Thermal Gaiter or Split Decision Gaiter can really lock in heat and provide some protection from wind and water.
- Many fly fisherman have experienced the frustration of pulling a beanie over their fishing cap to keep their ears warm while still having a brimmed hat to protect their eyes. We recently released the Woolly Bugger Overhat as a solution to this problem to pair with your cap and provide that extra protection from wind and water. This piece utilizes our Core Construction to lock out wind and water while still keeping breathability levels high.
7.) Save your feet with wool socks: Keeping your feet warm during colder months can be a hard task for many folks. Between leaky waders and sweaty feet, moisture is always brutal to deal with. Wool’s ability to handle moisture and be warm when wet makes them ideal for cold-weather fishing.
Our Light Hike Sock and Ski Sock double as great wading socks. Our blend maximizes keeping moisture off your feet by pushing it into the wool. Having a layered blend within the fabric also helps maintain loft in the sock even after hard days of use.
Side Tip: Tight boots can be your enemy in freezing temps. Not only does it hold the cold water closer to your skin, but it also restricts blood flow. In addition to that Boot-foot style waders hold water away from the feet which are ideal compared to stocking foot waders with separate boots hold the moisture to your body.
8.) Food and Water: Staying hydrated and keeping your belly full is often easily overlooked when waking up early and rushing to the river.
- Running on an empty stomach directly affects your body’s ability to stay warm. If you are near our Bozeman location, consider stopping in four corners at Mama Mac’s on your way to the river for a hot breakfast to go. They are adjacent to Fin and Feathers Fly, making grabbing food and last-minute supplies an easy stop.
Final Thoughts: Choosing layers that work well together can make or break your experience fishing in the cold. When starting off, it's best to pick layers that compliment what you already own and build from that. Your goal should be to layer in a way that prioritizes keeping the body dry. Keeping dry both in the form of protection from outer elements, but also from sweat and condensation from your body. While it's ideal to plan on staying dry, it’s even more important to be prepared to stay warm in case you do get wet. This is where wool and the proper clothing can save the day.